The Internal Expert: A New Model for Modern Research Teams

Every year is dominated by a few select marketing trends. In 2018, artificial intelligence, blockchain and the growth of management consultancies into adjacent territories were destined to be those trends. However, one soon began to overshadow rest: data security.

As news broke of privacy concerns around Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, marketers were quick to take note of the shockwaves. It was a wake-up call that shocked companies – as decision makers began to realise just how little control they had over their data and, more worryingly, their customers’ data. In the wake of the subsequent scandals and revelations, marketing and advertising agencies suffered as companies started to bring more and more activity in-house.

Of course, the motives for this shift were clear. Cyber security is a big risk, data misuse is a key concern and brand safety has been top of mind for a number of years. But, in addition to mitigating risk, companies have also begun to develop a greater appreciation for data as an asset: something to be leveraged and valued as a business driver.

Leveraging Research Data

Research departments, on the other hand, have always had a clear understanding of the value of data. The archetypal challenge for insights professionals has always been convincing others of that value. That’s why, as a new data awakening starts to take form, there is a massive opportunity for research departments to take control and position their function as shepherds of insight.

And this may well be possible. Gartner’s annual survey of CMOs found that 40% believe customer analytics to be the most important marketing capability to develop over the next 18 months.

40% of CMOs believe customer analytics will be the most important capability over the next 18 months.

Gartner CMO Survey

But the same finding that highlights new opportunities also hints at the challenges researchers may face. Customer analytics is broadly considered to consist of automated data collection mechanisms that can answer questions pertaining to anything that can be measured or tracked. Acquisition channels, retention rates and revenue streams are all commonly cited examples of customer analytics. These sources of data are clearly not the formats researchers are familiar working with.

So the question that needs to be asked is: should insights professionals retrain to be more data-centric or is there another role that they can take on?

It’s certainly unfair to say that just because marketers are focused on customer analytics, researchers should too. However, researchers do have a unique set of skills that can benefit both domains.

A central tenet of research is to blend multiple sources of information to paint a full picture, then narrow down a compelling, truthful and accurate story that will capture the attention of decision-makers and drive action. This is exactly what marketers will need – as the in-sourcing trend continues to grow – in order to turn customer analytics and other data sources into action.

The Internal Data Agency

What would this look like in practice?

Well, there are a number of options. The most straightforward is to position a research team as an internal insights management consultancy – capable of advising on which findings to explore further, distilling massive volumes of data down into compelling stories and, most importantly, activating insight. The most crucial aspect of this function is to add context around data points through additional research and use this to inform business decisions.

A secondary functional of an internal data agency is to create, manage and maintain a central repository of all existing business intelligence. Large companies have access to a vast amount of information – often decentralised and separated by department or business unit. However, as an appreciation for the value of data widens, there will be increasing pressure to centralise this information into a single repository and share more across departments.

Forrester provides a useful summary of the potential pitfalls that lay along the journey of setting up a knowledge management platform. In particular, Reineke Reitsma states that most knowledge management projects fail because of a lack of participation and willingness to collaborate. This is either driven by a lack of need or a lack of reward, but it can also be the result of a non-collaborative culture or a lack of commitment from management.

However, Reitsma also provides a tantalising glimpse at the potential rewards;

“Market research is not a snapshot in time anymore, but more like a movie: we understand what was before, we know what happens now, and we can help build an outlook of the future.”

Reineke Reitsma, Forrester

Insight Activation

Ultimately, activating insight is the goal of an internal data consultancy: turning stories and insights into real world decisions that make a tangible business impact.

To make this happen, insight departments require two things:

  1. A compelling narrative that makes a clear recommendation
  2. A way of presenting insights and recommendations to decisions makers that captures and holds their attention.

It is this second task which is often the most difficult and requires researchers to broaden their skillset. Over the years, a range of tactics have been suggested – from stories to infographics, vox pop videos to interactive workshops. Each comes with their own set of pros and cons. However, the nature of attention is such that once a tactic becomes too commonplace, it will begin to lose its effectiveness.

That’s why FlexMR are experimenting with activation, and pushing it to the extreme. The Insight as Art: Consumer Postcard Project aims to turn consumer opinion into unique and eye-catching pieces of artwork that leave viewers with a feeling over facts and figures. Combined with a memorable story, we believe this is a potent way to inspire action. We’re still looking for brands to get involved in the project, so if you’d like to find out more – take a look at this link.

FlexMR Insight as Art - Insight Platforms
FlexMR’s Insight as Art: Consumer Postcard Project

At this point, I’d be interested to hear what you think. Do you agree that internal data consultancies are the future of research departments? Do you believe insight activation, knowledge management and consultant style advice are the future? Or do you see a very different trend taking shape?

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